California Memories

The Man-Mountain Sheriff and Me

In my last post, I mentioned my lone trip to California taken in April 1997 when I left family and England behind in search of adventure. I listed some events that I would really like to share with you some day. Writing that short snippet has jogged my memory so I have decided to post these events, one at a time, for each is a short story in its own right.

Finally, I should add a disclaimer at this point. I do not intend to cause offence to anyone who may recognize themselves in these stories and although events are real, names have been changed to protect the innocent and the weak.

In no particular order and beginning today, here is my first short offering…


The Man-Mountain Sheriff and Me

We have been driving for a short time.

“I think we need to stop for Gas,” observes my new friend as we chug along Highway 1 just outside San Francisco.

I rose this April morning in a Motel 6 where I spent last night. It was not the most luxurious of settings. My view included a brick wall and the room was in permanent darkness. I had looked forward to getting out into the sunshine but as I closed the motel room door behind me and stepped out of the covered walkway to meet my friend, it was apparent that sunshine was nowhere to be seen. Grey clouds hovered above us and even as we set off for the diner and breakfast, the skies opened.

Rain splashes against the windscreen. This, although I do not know it, is to be the only rain we see in the entire three weeks and will remain memorable for that reason. Just a few weeks ago, California was hit by torrential downpours and floods that  have left  Yosemite closed to visitors and caused havoc across the country. I hope that this is just a shower.

The VW (camper van) is battered and old and it groans a little as we turn into the forecourt of the Gas station.  Everything on the forecourt looks pretty normal to me apart from the obvious differences to home, like the *petrol pumps being labeled as **gas pumps and the dollar signs replacing pounds.

Part of the deal on this trip is that in exchange for hospitality, I will pay all expenses while we travel.  Hence, I step out of the VW and head for the cashier’s kiosk. Ready for the inevitable questions, I smile and present my credit card to the chap behind the desk,

“Hi there, you’re from Australia right?” he asks, hearing my accent as he swipes the card and waits for the machine to work,

“No, I’m from England,” I reply – now on auto pilot since I have answered the same question at least fifty times since my arrival.

“Oh really? You get a lot of fog over there don’t you?” the attendant grins.

Of course, I put him straight, but honestly, is that what everyone thinks? Sherlock Holmes has a lot to answer for.

As I walk back to the VW I do think something is not quite right. My friend is turning the engine over – but nothing is happening.

“She’s cut out again – just needs a push or a jump start,” she states, standing by the VW, hands on the hips of her pink hot-pants. I look from her to the van. There is no way I can push that great hulk of metal anywhere.

My hair is feeling decidedly damp and the rain continues to trickle down my neck. My friend seems pretty dry beneath her battered straw hat.

“Maybe the engine’s just flooded, if we wait a few minutes it might start?” I try hopefully, my own  experience of elderly vehicles and their foibles springing to the fore.

“Go ask that Sheriff if he has any jump leads or can give us a push,” my friend instructs, ignoring me and waving a hand in the direction of the Sheriff’s car that has just pulled onto the forecourt. I believe she thinks I will present a more pathetic sight than her and evoke sympathy. She is probably right on the first count, though much good it will do me…

Now normally, back home, I would have thought twice about the entire idea. Maybe I’d have looked around a bit first but hey, I am in California and I am ‘alone’ and I can do anything now… it turns out I personify ‘the tourist abroad’.

I lean down to peer in the window of the Sheriff’s car and smile.

The very nice Sheriff opens the door. I step back, he steps out – and up. My jaw all but hits the floor as he straightens up. He is at least seven feet tall and six feet wide. (Well, he must be, trust me). A holster sits on his hip at eye level. I don’t like to think about the gun concealed within.

“Yes Ma’am? Can I help you?” he is asking.

Looking up, and up, I ask him if he would help us start the VW, even give us a push. At this outrageous suggestion he shakes his head,

“”Sorry Ma’am, I can’t even push the vehicle for you. We get a lot of folks who tend to sue us if things go wrong.”

 I stare at him, suddenly appreciating the British Bobby even more. Back home I like to think that even now, a kind policeman would still roll up his sleeves and try to help.

It is at this point that two more police cars screech onto the forecourt, sirens wailing.

“Excuse me ma’am, we have an incident here,” the man-mountain says calmly. 

I jump aside as two men run out of the cashier’s office, shouting and brandishing what appears to be a gun in the air. The man-mountain Sheriff strides across and apprehends both as two more police officers run up to assist.

From within the office raised voices reach my ears and other people begin running hither and thither waving their arms in the air excitedly.

I make a hurried exit from the scene and jump up into the passenger seat of the VW. My friend doesn’t say a word. She turns the key and by some miracle the engine starts. We don’t hang around. As soon as the engine is ticking over nicely, we are off.

***Thelma and Louise we definitely aren’t!

As we leave the Gas station behind, I can’t help but wonder at what has just occurred. Perhaps I won’t let my husband know about it until I get home. No sense worrying him unnecessarily is there?

Oh and yes, the engine was flooded by the way.

*Gas station – Petrol station in the UK
**Petrol pump –  Gas pump in USA
***Thelma and Louise – you mean you don’t know? Wow! Where have you been? Film 1991 directed by Ridley Scott.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Andrea Carlisle

    Yes, even stopping for gas here in America is exciting. This sort of thing happens ALL the time. HUGE lawmen with a John Wayne calmness even as thieves come rushing out in surrender, guns waving in the air–all a matter of course.
    I’m delighted that some accommodating Californians provided this scenario for you because it was lots of fun to read, Deborah, and I’m waiting for more stories (still curious about that Tomb of Dolls). So get cracking, as we like to say here in the U.S., even though we haven’t the slightest idea what it means.
    Oh gosh, I just realized it must have something to do with horses and whips, so forget cracking. I’ll wait patiently…And thank you for getting my morning off to a good start.

  • Deb

    Oh, I think Thelma and Louise would be happy to call you friends. 🙂

    Your traveling companion sounds like an adventure all by herself.

    Looking forward eagerly to the next story.

  • Katie Gates

    Law enforcement on this side of “the pond” can be a bit intimidating. I would have freaked out if I had witnessed that incident at the gas station! I’m looking forward to more California stories. … In the meantime, I’m trying to picture Thelma & Louise in a VW van. That would have been quite a different movie!

  • Patricia

    Great Story and I can just visualize the VW bus and the need for a push…been there and done that!!!

    Mountain Man Sheriff guess I know those guys too…most of the ones in our city go on to law school…those that move to the Sheriff’s office are rather mountain men – sometimes not so bright…

    The State Patrol – now those are the smarty pants…

    Looking forward to more stories

  • John Cowton

    Hello Deborah, and thank you for your comments on my blogspot. It’s good to have links with other writers for motivational and inspirational support.

    But Hey, what a coincidence, because I too have a Sheriff story during my time in Texas in ’98, when amongst other things I was there for a job interview, but stretched out my stay to a total of five weeks.

    I was staying in a small town in Jackson County, a few miles north of the southern coast of Tx. I used to smoke in those days and went out one day for a walk to the Seven-Eleven store to buy some cigarettes.

    A big brown police cruiser was heading down towards me on the opposite side of the road. It crossed the road and pulled up alongside me driverside. The window came down and I had already noticed the big ‘Sherrif’ insignia emblazoned on the door.

    This sherrif was not like your ‘Man Mountain Sherrif’ Deborah, he was more of a ‘Boss Hogg’.

    “Would you mind telling me where you’re going?” says he,
    to which I told him I was going to buy some cigarettes.

    “Where’s your car?” he asked menacingly. I awkwaredly stammered a reply that it was at Heathrow.

    “Get outta here, I know you got a car,” he said and swiftly got out of the car. He stood before me eye-level to my adam’s apple that was working overtime. Despite his shorter stature, he represented the strong arm of the law, Texan Law.

    “Where you from?” and when I replied England, guess what Deborah?

    “Get outta here, I know you’re Australian”.

    This happened to me several times during my stay in Tx. Because I speak with a regional accent that sounds nothing like Hugh Grant or David Niven, I could not possible be English and hence could only be from Down Under.

    Anyway back to my Sheriff, he turned out to be a reasonable man and clearly decided for himself that I was genuine without asking me to produce any ID, or maybe he felt he’d had his fun and put me through enough.

    He explained that nobody walks during the day as it was too hot to walk. Not even dogs get walked, so I was a suspicious character.

    He asked me how long I was staying and then asked me to come along to the Sherrif’s Rodeo, which I did.

    The Sherrif himself competed amongst his deputies, state troopers, and even FBI agents from the nearby city of Victoria. Everyone’s a cowboy in those parts.

    I have used part of the dialogue and my experience for a script I am currently working on.

    But Deborah, it hadn’t quite got the andrenaline rush your experience had at the gas station during a robbery whilst your VW Campervan had apparently broken down.

    You have an English ‘Thelma and Louise’ road story waiting to be told. Two english housewives on the dusty interstate highways of America, way way out of their comfort zone… what a story waiting to be told.

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